Ahh, the holidays. They are sneaking upon us before we know it! A time of giving thanks (or acknowledging the genocide of Native Americans), the birth of a religious icon (unless you’re not Christian!), and wearing oversized glasses in the middle of Times Square when the ball drops (and perhaps catching a cold in freezing temperatures.) And, food, food, food! Turkey, stuffing, casseroles, egg nog, gigantic family meals, fruitcakes that tacitly meet their maker in the trash compactor, the list goes on.
So how does one stay svelt during these times? How does one manage to eat better and more fully digest, in general?
In Chinese Medicine, when our bodies take in food, it goes to the Spleen, whose job is to move and transport the food, distributing its essence to all parts of the body. According to Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine by Nigel Wiseman and Andrew Ellis, “These functions play an important role in the formation of qi and blood. For this reason it is said that the Spleen is the source of qi and blood formation.” Quite the significant role! In fact, the Spleen manages the blood, governs the flesh and limbs, and opens into the mouth (referring to the relationship of the splenic movement and transformation to appetite and taste in the mouth.) Spleen is of the Earth element, whose season is usually Late Summer. But I wanted to bring it up as a relevant organ, because these holiday times of overindulgence and gluttony does tax the Spleen’s ability to transport and transform!
When the Spleen is healthy, you will see: a good appetite, normal absorption of nutrients, and regular bowel movements (usually once a day.) However, when the Spleen’s functions are impaired, you will see: a poor appetite, poor digestion, abdominal distention, loose bowel movements (even diarrhea.) Of course, this is an oversimplified, and extremely short, list of symptoms. But, it gives a quick idea of what you can expect.
And not only is the Spleen responsible for various physical aspects; but, in Five Element theory in Chinese Medicine, the emotion corresponding to the Spleen’s Earth element is Sympathy. If a person who’s healthy in bodymind he/she flows from one emotion to another, including that of sympathy. According to the book, Traditional Acupuncture: The Law of the five Elements by Dianne M. Connelly, Ph.D., “The person who cannot receive sympathy, and the person who asks for sympathy continually, are both stuck and do no flow easily in and out of the emotion… This is not a natural flow and points to an imbalance in the Earth Element. The I need…, the craving sympathy says that the Earth is imbalanced in the same way someone craving sweets is signaling an Earth imbalance. Health is a balance of needs and emotions.”
Which brings to mind: what do you crave? In food? In life? Are you flowing easily in and out of the emotion, mindset? Because digestion is not only the physical process of eating and taking in nutrients. Spleen also reminds you: what are you bringing into your world? What are you transforming in your life? Are you nourishing your body, your family, your loved ones, with these transformations, and how do they manifest?
I recently went to an introductory cooking class on traditional foods – foods and dairy that are nutrient dense. Meats from this category are fresh, pasture-raised and organic. Dairy from this category is fresh, from pasture-raised animals, organic and preferably raw and cultured.
As a Chinese Medicine practitioner, we are taught about healthy herbs, foods, how to cook congees (nourishing Chinese rice porridge that often includes herbs), vitamins, etc. in school. I also had taken a cooking class from a nutritional counselor, whose speciality was bone health. She taught me about the importance in soaking grains. Through this and the traditional foods cooking class, I learned that you can actually raise the minerals and vitamins in foods, and increase the digestion of nutrients in your body, just by taking a little extra time to prepare certain foods. Some ways to prepare foods for greater digestibility, and releasing the nutrient value are: soaking and sprouting grains, nuts and seeds, making stocks, fermenting vegetables and fruits, and culturing dairy products, among some items.
So, here are some simple things you can incorporate into your lifestyle to make things easier on your Spleen, make for better digestion and nutrient intake:
Soak your grains: Quinoa, chia seeds, etc. should all be soaked (pour water over the grains) at least overnight. The reason grains need to be soaked is because they are covered by a phytic acid that acts as a layer of protection while growing in the wild. Kind of like a natural pesticide. This covering inhibits absorptions of minerals into the body. Millet does not need to be soaked. But, yes, even rice needs to be soaked. Quinoa and rice can be soaked up to 4 days (my preference, I feel a difference in my sensitive Spleen.) Sprouting enhances the vitamin content and beneficial enzymes. Some use whey when sprouting. In the traditional nutrition class, they ruled out white and yellow rice, dismissing them as having no nutritional value whatsoever (brown rice was preferred.) “Well, hey,” I thought, “I’m part-Asian and part-Spanish, so I can’t help ya there!” I will always have a soft spot for those! Yes, that means you’ll have to plan dishes a little bit more in advance, but you will feel a difference, especially for those with sensitive digestive systems.
- Create a classic chicken bone broth: This would not be considered a soup, but a bone broth/stock. In this diddy, you would include the whole chicken. Yes, chicken feet, head, all the good stuff! Using the heads will impart your stock with the benefits from the thyroid of the animal, and the feet make it highly gelatinous and nutritious. This is a long-cooking broth. One of the instructors likes to cook it overnight on low, checking on it every so often. Check out my bone broth recipe, “Traditional Chicken Bone Broth: A Recipe To Build Qi And Blood For Immune Building, Fertility, And Postpartum”, to get you started!
- Incorporate healthy fats into your diet: If you’re familiar with my blog, I’m all about the coconut oil (check out my previous blog post, “Kale and Maitake Mushrooms: A Recipe for Detoxing and Immune Building”.) I use it when cooking, baking, over popcorn, in the hair, it’s multiuse! Lard, ghee, bacon fat, and olive oil are more examples of healthy fats.
Natural sweeteners: Raw honey is awesome when combined with apple cider vinegar for oncoming colds (I talked about it a little in “Tools For Overcoming the Common Cold”.) I use it in almost everything that needs sweetening. The pollen and propolis is still in there, and it’s high in the enzyme amylase which assists with grain and starch digestion.
It may be hard incorporating a fully traditional dish spread during the holidays, but you can make it a little easier on the Spleen-challenged by incorporating a dish or two that includes any of the above!
And as a reminder:
In my last post, I mentioned that, in honor of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (AOM) Day in conjunction with Halloween, I am offering a special 25% discount for any first time patients, until November 10th, 2011, the next Full Moon. Now is a good time to keep immunity up as we enter cold and flu season, and for de-stressing as we start planning for holiday events!
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